Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Jesus on facebook

And it's more popular than even that one singer who hatched herself from an egg at the Grammy's and wore a machine gun bra for Rolling Stone. (Nope, not Susan Boyle.)

FB's "Jesus Daily" page is the work of Aaron Tabor, a gene therapy researcher who, according to his own fb page, likes jet skiing and has been "Saved by the Blood." Several times a day he posts scriptures from the Bible or artwork featuring Jesus, doves, and cats wearing chain mail. (Really. Look in the photo section.) The outpouring on the post is pretty amazing--amazing enough to get picked up by the Old Gray Lady. "Likes" ranging between 30-200,000 and thousands of comments, some of them comprised of nothing more than a praise shout-out of "YES!". The comment threads cascade in a swell of testimony, prayer, and hallelujahs from all over the world, from people of all ages. It's fascinating to see how faith aggregates and magnifies itself online.

The comments aren't just comments but religious speech acts meant to express devotion, benediction, witnessing, amens, and direct petitions to God. Plenty of exclamation marks and all-caps. The stychomythia of online commenting has created a stream of language more like speech. Last month Juanita Bynum, the Pentacostal televangelist, busted out in spiritual exuberance on her facebook page in the middle of praying:

Surely we are waaaaaaay outside the realm of I Corinthians 14 on this one. The media have had their fun with Bynum (typing in tongues? typing in fingers? speaking in keystrokes?), but I think it's a fascinating example of what I call "rhetoric of the invisible"--when in addition to speaker, audience, and topic you have the assumption of invisible forces at work in the rhetoric, motivating, confirming, inspiring, and even (in the case of glossalalia or holy laughter) animating the participants.

Does Jesus Daily trivialize religious language (e.g., witnessing) by making it so abundant, so prosaic, and so easy? 




  1. Trivialize...is that pejorative? I have a hard time liking something like Jesus Daily because meaningful religious experience seems to require more of me than could be expressed via unicode fishermen and chapels. In that manner it does seem like Bynum is trivializing religious language. I'm sure a lot of people enjoy the momentary fealty this type of worship allows.

  2. Yes, it can be seen as pejorative. You're pushing me off my objectivity rock! I was probably being too nice: Bynum's enthusiasm weirds me out a bit, even as I respect it as religious speech. It's more speech act than speech. There is no translation, which, if I understand glossolalia, is theologically required, so nothing is communicated to us other than the implied message that she has been possessed of God.

    Many of the facebook messages do the same thing. It's not what they say but the spiritual emotions they express. That's probably the most generous reading when you scroll down ten feet of "YES!" and "PRAISE!"